safety valve

I’ve talked to my friend Liz recently about Sex and the City (SATC) and how it it I think it acknowledges its own unrealism while not addressing it. People love that show because they wish their lives would be like that, but the show seems to take pains to remind people that what they see is not real or necessarily feasible. So do we call that kind of art subversive or not? Does it secretly change cultural norms and reshape people’s views of society despite avoiding directly addressing those issues? Or is it merely pap for the masses to keep the subservient to some dominant state interests (to borrow a little radicalization from Boal).

Liz mentioned an interesting theory to me, which I shall call the safety valve theory. She says SATC “provides the public with enough edge and ‘scandal’ to keep them believing that they are still a part of a free society.” It acts a safety valve for society by using humor to defuse tension and dissatisfaction. So they will show women blowing thousands of dollars on shoes in order for her to live her own independent lifestyle. In the world of SATC, merchantile excess is the key to personal independence

I am not a regular watcher of the show, but I have seen a few episodes. I think that although it proposes a liberated sexual identity for women, at the same time it denies its own reality. That, coupled with the money leading to personal independence noted above presents a dangerous message I think. I disagree very much that in order for women to be independent they must be able to buy expensive shoes, and yet that is what SATC would have us believe.

Perhaps I am reaching too far to find a reason for not liking the show. But watching it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m trying to figure out why.

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0 thoughts on “safety valve

  1. not sure that i follow your reasoning, but i enjoyed reading it. 🙂

    sometimes i just don’t like something, and that’s that. no picking or obsessing necessary. maybe it’s the same for you and SATC.

  2. The episodes I saw seemed to portray women’s sexual independence as a by-product of either contempt or frustration, or even boredom and money. In reality, it is very hard to find any show on tv that argues the case for truly independent people (aka, shows that make you think?). But maybe that was the intention of the show… Anyway, it does capture the mood of the more showy part of NYC. And the show’s characters have become a new group of NYC stereotypes…

  3. I think the point is that shows like SATC show that society has problems but then present no viable way to escape or solve those problems. So the marginalization of women is a problem, but they way out is to have enough money to live this unrealistic lifestyle.

  4. Do you deconstruct your Mexican take-out menus?

    To the extent SATC presents a view of a problem, it’s the view that dating and mating are difficult, painful and occasionally quite comical activities. I don’t know that it’s fair to label a show with four female protagonists who are always center stage as being about the “marginalization” of women. If anything, the show is much harder on men, who are portrayed as shallow, materialistic, insincere, perverted, impotent, and commitment-phobic. There are no male regulars on the show, only recurrings. The show is about women. The men just flit in and out.

    Whether it’s about plausible women – well, that’s another subject. They are basically four types – the nurturing traditionalist (Charlotte), the driven careerist (Miranda), the libido (Samantha), and the anxious (Carrie). Each one is an exaggeration, but they embody qualities that have appeared in varying degrees in women whom I have dated. So they’re not completely unrecognizable. For those who have gone through the post-school dating wars, the show presents exaggerated, but not completely unrecognizable, situations. Like Dilbert with the workplace, SATC works by exaggerating situations with which we’re all familiar. I don’t think people love the show because they want their lives to be like that – they love the show because it finds humor in the fact that their lives (if they are urban single professionals) are already like that, or at least not so unlike that as to be unfamiliar.

    The “safety valve” theory sounds like the Normon Solomon “trouble with Dilbert” theory, another theory that I find utterly unconvincing. SATC isn’t about the clothes, the fancy restaurants, the liquor or any of that. At it’s core, it’s about people dating and mating, and the lunacy that the process entails. If that’s “pap for the masses,” well, I left grad school because I actually just wanted to be able to enjoy life without deconstructing everything, so I’ll take my blue pill and go on with life, ordering from the menu with the sombrero-wearing burrito without trying to figure out what it means.

  5. the main issue i have with the show (says the girl who only watches cartoons) is the same issue that i have with a large number of shows: the characters tend to make a big deal about nothing, and it’s not absurdist enough to make up for that. specifically, the girls spend a disproportionate amount of their time trying to get men to sleep with them, commit to them, whatever. and when things don’t go well, oh, no, we’re so sad, we’re going to hit 40 and remain unmarried. tragic, really.

    so (1), i don’t have any interest in seeing people fail to deal with the simple problems in their lives and (2) i’d have a hell of a time trying to be friends with any of these women. i mean seriously. chill out and get a hobby. i resent the implication that the independent woman is unable to deal with issues that arise in a mature and intelligent fashion and that her primary concern is getting a man.

    in a lot of ways, the show reinforces and glorifies female stereotypes that i wouldn’t consider positive. i know women who see the characters as positive role models. that’s simply not the case, and that’s fine. but you can’t call a woman independent just because she’s single.

  6. Seeing them as positive role models is quite a stretch, but I’d say that about anyone who sees Jerry, Elaine, et. al. or Ross, Rachel, et. al. as some kind of role model has deep identity issues that are not any TV show’s problem. I would hesitate to read too much into the show as a comment on “the independent woman,” because the “independent woman” is a bit like the “reasonable person” in economic thought. Can a woman who is married with kids be considered “independent”? If “independence” is equated with “freedom to do anything at any time,” then no, she probably would not be considered “independent,” unless she has some rather unusual ideas about marital fidelity and parental responsibility. There is no such thing as complete independence without abdication of law and social responsibility. So what is “independence”? Interesting philosophical question. But not one that it’s this show’s job to answer.

    As far as spending a disproportionate time trying to get men to sleep with them, I tend to view the show the other way, as the women dealing with the number of men who want to sleep with them. The men don’t come off that well, either – in many cases, other than appearance and money, they’re not that likeable. And they are all shown as having the primary goal of getting sex.

  7. I spend a lot of time trying to get men to sleep with me. I wonder if that’s why I enjoy the show, occasionally, even though I want to bitch-slap each of the characters (except for Miranda) at least once per episode. Occasionally, I find them to be more caricatures than actual personalities.

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